Asheville newcomers Brett Watson (by way of Los Angeles) and Heidi Bass (from Charleston, South Carolina) had no clue what sort of buzz they would create with a single sign proclaiming a sourdough sale at their Montford neighborhood apartment. Plenty of other people had taken up bread baking during the pandemic, but few had a queue in their front yard for their goods. Watson remembers looking out the home’s second-story window and seeing 20 customers already in line. “Um, Heidi, we need to get down there,” he recalls telling Bass, who was brushing her teeth, unaware that their lives were about to change
At the time, Watson was the Metro Wines buyer and previously worked at Bestia and Bavel in Los Angeles. He had lived in Southern California for the better part of ten years and enjoyed access to products and ingredients from a market that large. He really wanted the opportunity to bring that extensive market experience to a city like Asheville that seemed on the cusp of some good things from a food and wine perspective.
Bass moved to Asheville from Charleston in 2018. She was working a management job in client services and was a home baker leaning into sourdough bread. After moving, she decided to try baking professionally. She worked at a couple of bakeries around Asheville but ended up back in the office at White Labs Test Kitchen, selling yeast to breweries, and simultaneously learning more about the science of fermentation. Her baking improved significantly as a result. During COVID she was missing human interaction and decided to put a table on her lawn and sell bread to neighbors. Watson was a huge part of helping her set up and sell the bread, even maybe giving away bloody marys to anyone who wanted to sit on the lawn and meet new friends. People perhaps came for the novelty, but they stayed for the sourdough, especially the focaccia which became a consistently sold-out staple.
Their informal monthly sourdough bread pop-up at Bass’s apartment began in the late summer of 2020. The two were only in their second round of the event and knew they were on to something. They began cultivating a following through the events as well as a growing wholesale account that included Chop Shop Butchery and Metro Wines’ wine club.
Eventually, their accountant asked how to get bread on a regular basis because seemingly it was always, as Watson puts it, a “call your aunt’s ex-husband’s dog and they fax a preorder” situation — it was always a bit complicated. The next day, they found a 190-square-foot space in a new building in the River Arts district. This was the birth of Mother.
The shop was an immediate success as a small retail storefront to showcase Bass’s sourdough and Watson’s wine offerings. After a little over a year, she began outgrowing the current bakery space with wholesale accounts and the demand from the retail shop.
Three years after that first sourdough sale, the two recently opened their second outpost at 244 Short Coxe Avenue. The South Slope neighborhood address now houses their bakery production and a European-style cafe serving sandwiches, salads, small plates, and natural wines in a warm and comfortable space.
The bread side of Mother, which features sandwich and focaccia loaves, bagels, and baguettes, was initially created to be a resource for restaurants where there wasn’t the opportunity for an in-house baker. In the new Mother space, the business has grown, both in ways the two expected and ways they did not.
With a proper bakery kitchen built to Bass’ specifications, the team has been able to produce new styles of bread they were not able to before, such as boules, and have been able to increase quality as well as consistency. The team was also greeted with the positive turn of an open floor plan, brighter lights, and natural sunlight to work with.
The cafe menu is developed and produced by chef Aleksander Kubicki, who came to Asheville via Seattle and Brooklyn. With a background at Michelin-star-rated Claro in Brooklyn and West Asheville’s Jargon, Kubicki took Bass and Watson’s vision and expanded out from tried-and-true staples like the jambon beurre to include new items like custard-like quiche with sourdough dust, a confit mushroom toast, a braised lamb sandwich on flatbread.
Watson and Bass have had lots of fun taking Mother to a full hospitality and service situation with a hybrid counter and table service. “At the River Arts shop, we were able to develop lots of great relationships,” says Watson. “We were able to learn customers’ names, their families, and what they were doing on Saturday night.” Making a commitment to a larger physical footprint and adding the cafe aspect to the retail was made easier by their already established customer base.
Watson acknowledged they have learned as they go from the production side to the business side to the hospitality side, while stubbing a toe here and there along the way. The two also realized that ultimately, everyone in the restaurant world is dealing with the same challenges. Bass says “Seeing the response from the community has been reassuring.”
In addition to its regular service, Mother hosts a weekly, ticketed wine tasting called Sunday Service around the long, communal table that quickly turns into a chance to meet new friends and taste new wines. This sense of community and the opportunity to bring people a new experience that may seem familiar is just what the two intended.
“Customers will pull me aside and say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m in Asheville.’ This reminds them they are on the right track.